BCFP Ombudsman Report Highlights Feedback on Consumer Complaint Database
The report also recaps opportunities for industry and the bureau to discuss concerns and ideas through interactive forums, including at ACA International’s Washington Insights Conference.
12/4/2018 12:00 PM
The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s recently released 2018 Annual Report to the Director (the ombudsman’s report) reveals some stakeholder concern about the bureau’s consumer complaint database and how some information derived from it is publicized through speeches, press releases and other public presentations.
ACA International has been a vocal critic of flaws in the bureau’s contextualization of the database and the bureau’s publication of complaint trends and raw data without providing proper analysis.
Released by Bureau Ombudsman Wendy Kamenshine, the report provides overall updates on the office’s interactions with external stakeholders―including ACA International and the accounts receivable management industry―and feedback on engagement through the consumer complaint database in its annual report for 2018.
During the May 2018 Washington Insights Conference, ACA International hosted a highly productive and informative members-only “Ombudsman Interactive” session with the BCFP’s office. It provided an important opportunity for members to engage with the Ombudsman Office and discuss very relevant processes and issues between the accounts receivable management industry and the bureau.
Other examples of systemic issues reviewed by the ombudsman’s office over the years are available in their annual reports to the BCFP director, which may be read on the BCFP ombudsman’s website.
It should be noted that not all discussions related to the consumer complaint database were critical, according to the report. In fact, some discussions on the consumer complaint process produced compliments on bringing “consumers and companies together to resolve issues as well as working with companies on administrative responses to consumer complaints, such as duplicate designations or when complaints identify an incorrect company.”
Nevertheless, Mark Neeb, ACA’s CEO, said, “The report appears to recognize that improvements can be made to some of the processes surrounding the complaint database, which is in line with concerns voiced by ACA International and our members at the Washington Insights Conference and during other opportunities for discussion with the ombudsman. Furthermore, the ombudsman’s report highlights some of ACA’s specific concerns with inaccuracies in the complaint database such as not distinguishing complaints versus inquiries.”
ACA International appreciates the opportunity to continue to interact with the BCFP and the ombudsman’s office through forums and events such as the Washington Insights Conference.
Overall, in fiscal year 2018, the ombudsman received 1,385 inquiries from companies, individuals, consumer and trade groups, compared to 1,610 in fiscal year 2017.
Recommendations from discussion participants include:
- Offer consumers an online pathway to submit a consumer inquiry, similar to the online pathway to submit a complaint;
- Implement a system where consumers answered initial questions to determine if the matter is a complaint, inquiry, or other type of communication; and
- Consumers should be required to try to resolve the matter directly with the company before using the bureau’s consumer complaint process.
“Overall, they highlighted that if the regular company process does not work, consumers should be able to have their issue addressed through the bureau’s consumer complaint process,” according to the report.
The bureau, as outlined in the ombudsman’s report, also focused on the consumer complaint database processes during its Request for Information (RFI) series this year. ACA International and its members submitted comments in response to a majority of the information requests.
ACA also engaged with the bureau and ombudsman’s office during a forum this year focused on regulatory compliance and technology, among other topics.
Attendees at the ombudsman office’s forums said there is a “need for more bureau knowledge about industry products, services and functions, particularly regarding nonbank industries,” according to the report. “They also encouraged bureau staff to meet with as well as shadow industry to learn more about industry in a practical sense and to obtain additional expertise. Participants also highlighted the experience of consumers in the financial marketplace and shared that the bureau may benefit from a further understanding of consumers’ experiences. They recommended that, beyond meeting with industry senior or executive staff, the bureau should also meet with industry operational staff to understand how business engages on the front line with consumers.”
Going forward in the New Year, the ombudsman’s office plans to continue to provide new opportunities to assist consumer, financial entities, consumer and trade groups it works with, according to the report.
“In addition, as the bureau itself evolves, we also anticipate offering new inreach and outreach opportunities, which will further assist us in advocating for fair process in consumer financial protection,” it states.
In 2019, the ombudsman’s office anticipates hosting at least one additional forum with consumer groups in a new region and an outreach event with advocates for small business in the next few years.
The role of the ombudsman’s office is to provide independent, impartial and confidential resources for consumers, banks and nonbanks in resolving issues with the bureau. In that role, it also makes recommendations to the bureau.
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